Alfred Leslie (b. 1927) was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1927. After serving in the U. S. Coast Guard, he studied at New York University under the G. I. Bill, and later at Pratt and the Art Students League. During the 1950s, Leslie was part of the historic Ninth Street Show, curated by Leo Castelli, had five solo shows at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, and was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 16 Americans exhibition, all the while receiving great praise for his more geometric variety of Abstract Expressionism. Leslie was immersed in the social, political and cultural changes of the day, balancing roles as a painter, a writer and a filmmaker. The works of today’s literary giants – then relatively unknown – Jean-Paul Sartre, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and others were featured in Leslie’s 1960 single-issue review The Hasty Papers, an edgy, anarchic commentary. Leslie’s studio was the arena for a nearly continuous series of art happenings, performances, musical improvisations and parties. His movie Pull My Daisy, co-directed with Robert Frank in 1959, is a landmark of the American underground film movement. It was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1996. Leslie’s work is in numerous museum collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, Museum of Modern Art, and The Art Institute of Chicago.
A life of tangents is an appropriate description for Alfred Leslie, not only because his form of Abstract Expressionism was more geometric than his peers, but also because he was constantly reinventing his artistic practice. The artist has always relied on intuition. His canvases and collages of the 1950s, emphasized color, depth, and texture. They included Leslie in what was regarded as the second generation of Abstract Expressionists, namely Joan Brown, Al Held, Norman Bluhm, Michael Goldberg, Grace Hartigan, and Joan Mitchell. Leslie’s canvases embodied Harold Rosenberg’s exhortation to artists to paint with a loaded brush and energetic execution. Layers upon layers of color are accented with hard right angles that mark the path of Leslie’s aggressive brushstroke. His collages demonstrate a similar intensity. Sharp bands of colors are applied and then bisected with ragged pieces of paper and board, fastened to the collage with tape, staples, nails, rivets and a variety of paint-types. Leslie emphatically dug into these layers, revealing many surfaces and imbue the works with texture and depth. He broke away from Abstract Expressionism in the early 1960s, shifting his focus to monochrome realistic portraits, color portraits and independent films.
According to Allan Stone, “Leslie’s work has an indisputable signature: the architecture, the wielding of the loaded brush, and the consistently present double vertical bands. Whether it is a large oil on canvas or a miniature collage, Leslie’s work is immediately identifiable. Leslie has the ability to impart scale much like Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. His small works have great scale and his large works project and even grander sense of scale. This combined with Leslie’s color sense creates a body of work that epitomizes the power and dynamic of postwar American abstract painting.”